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Queues for pound;140 'return' ticket

Neil Munro looks at efforts to persuade returners back in our continuing series on teacher supply.

ROSEMARY BURT is the kind of teacher education authorities need. But she needs help to return to the chalkface after 16 years.

A minister's wife from West Linton outside Edinburgh, Mrs Burt spent eight years teaching in a city primary. Apart from some supply work, her contact with the profession effectively ceased other than in her role as a parent.

These were the years when 5-14 turned the primary curriculum upside down, when the rules of engagement with assessment were written and rewritten, when technology grew increasingly omnipresent, when the scrutiny of school performance became ever more intense and when the raising of attainment emerged as the number one priority.

Add to the list new policies on target-setting, early intervention and the integration of pupils with special needs and some retraining becomes an imperative.

Mrs Burt was on the first refresher course run by Edinburgh's education department last year with Moray House Institute, which was for primary teachers only.

"The lectures were good and the course was definitely valuable," she says, "but the instant benefit came from meeting people who were in exactly the same situation as I was. I was really looking to convince myself that I was up to the job after a gap of 16 years."

She had looked at the 5-14 documents and had some idea of the new requirements. "But it was very helpful to see how they should be used for things like planning, assessment and so on. The course took the mystique out of it."

The course was prompted by the difficulties Edinburgh has in finding supply staff to cover for staff development. "A lot of initiatives were being held up," Margaret Alcorn, staff development and training officer, says. "Even where we are able to get supply teachers, their quality is uneven partly because they have been away for a long time and don't know what is expected of them."

Edinburgh will now expand the programme to include secondary returners, and the 10-week course gets under way tomorrow (Saturday). Ms Alcorn said she was "amazed" at the response.

About 180 expressed an interest and 40 primary and 40 secondary participants have already paid pound;140 to take part. The course covers general curricular and attainment matters as well as more specific areas such as specialist subject issues in secondary and early intervention in primary.

"The refresher course is intended to give a pilot's eye view which provides an introduction rather than a full grounding," Ms Alcorn said. She believes the level of interest in the course has uncovered a need. Many supply teachers may be put off accepting work because of new initiatives such as Higher Still and IT developments.

Mrs Burt says the advances in IT remain a daunting prospect even after returners have been refreshed. "Like many others I have a PC at home but these are not always the same as the ones you find when you walk into a school. I had never come across ClarisWorks before, for example."

The other major change she found was in the children. "They are not as compliant as they used to be, partly because they are taught to question more," Mrs Burt says.

Around half of those who have signed on for the course have done supply work. "But they feel they are not doing their best or at least not performing as effectively as they should," Ms Alcorn said. "So it is not surprising that they want to be brought up to date since many will hope to attract a full-time contract."

Mrs Burt felt that her supply teaching did not give her the grounding she needed. Now working for two days a week on a job share at Cornbank primary in Midlothian, she says the experience of the course prompted her to apply for the post.

On the other hand, she would probably not have gone on the course if Midlothian had not told her it was the only way she would be considered for a job.

At moments when Mrs Burt might feel overwhelmed, she is comforted by some words from Dave Turner, the course organiser at Moray House. He told last year's crop that, while they do have a lot to learn and acquire, they also have experience which is a valuable contribution in itself.

The next step being considered by Edinburgh and Moray House is the possibility of getting accreditation for the returners' course. "It is important, even if these teachers continue in supply work, that they think in terms of continuous professional development," Ms Alcorn says.

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